Kenneth L. Hardin: My heart can’t sustain the continued loss

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 26, 2022

I’m lamenting a deep loss that happened well before COVID-19 robbed us of a normal life. It’s not one I share alone because I know this loss is silently felt by the masses. Good customer service has suffered a fatal demise far beyond resuscitative efforts. Let me share a recent example of why I’m so brokenhearted.

Last week, I happily drove under the golden arches to purchase a single order of crispy fries for my 3-year-old grandson. I hummed a happy tune in my head as I pulled into an empty parking lot and up to the drive thru menu board. With a foot on the brake, I waited patiently for 45 seconds (yes I counted) for the slightly garbled and hard to understand voice to come out of the speaker. After nearly celebrating another birthday waiting for someone to acknowledge my presence, I spoke calmly into the speaker asking if anyone was there. In my mind, I knew I would get a “Welcome to…how can I help you today?”  What I received was a bland and unemotional, “Go ahead an order whenever you’re ready.”

Even though I was let down and no longer felt good about the $3 I was about to spend, I somehow soldiered on and pulled around to participate in the second round of this soulless transaction. I’m a rule follower, so I had my money in hand so as not to slow down this less than well-oiled assembly line process. The young woman looked through her closed glass window at me, but seemed more preoccupied with giggling, laughing and playing with another employee instead of taking the money from my extended arm.

As I sat there for what seemed like my second drive thru birthday, the iconic scene from the 1972 movie “Lady Sings The Blues” popped into my head. I was like Billy Dee Williams with an outstretched arm saying to Diana Ross, “You want my arm to fall off?” 

After she finally opened the window, I questioned her on why the process was so slow seeing how I was the only car in the drive thru. She seemed stunned and responded that my order hadn’t been taken and was not on her screen. I explained to her in a slightly agitated tone that I had sat at the menu board for nearly a minute before someone answered, and then pulled around to watch her playing instead of doing her job. The employee stumbled over her apology mixed with an explanation.

Instead of sitting there listening to the dribble of nonsensical verbal excrement being offered as service, I opted to forgo the third window in the pointless time-wasting chain. As I circled the still empty parking lot for the second time in pursuit of a single order of fries, I decided I would go inside and see if there was actually a manager running the sideshow. Yes, I became that guy, a male Karen.

When I got to the counter, an employee, who had actually read the training manual, offered the appropriate customary greeting. He wasn’t in a supervisory role so I refused to talk with him. In my mind, the thought continued to bounce around inside my head, “I’m going through all of this for an order of fries.”

The easy solution would’ve been to simply take the L, drive away and come back another day. I’m not wired that way. I’ll fight for a principal regardless of the cost. That evening, I was ready to die on that fried potato hill. I refused to allow the ghost of the Hamburglar to steal my grandson’s simple joy.

When the manager finally came up to the register, I laid into a passion filled diatribe alternating between asking him to explain why there was so much operational inefficiency occurring, escalating it to detailing every service breakdown I witnessed during this fast-food incarceration. The manager hemmed and hawed offering one unreasonable explanation after another to which I counter rejected each one. When he fell back on the short staffing excuse so overly used by every business now to absolve themselves from poor service offerings, I invited him, in my best Vanna White impression, to look around and note how empty it was inside and out in the parking lot. We ended our tête-à-tête with me allowing what had been rattling around in my head to flow down to my lips, “Sir, I just want one order of hot fries to take home to my grandson.”  He saw my pain and supersized me.

Slow food restaurants are not the only violators offering lowered, compromised service. (In) convenience stores, food markets and big box chains have broken my heart too. Intolerable service exists because intolerable service is tolerated. Not with me.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.